On September 1, 1859 a solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced the largest geomagnetic storm on record. The associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by Richard Carrington and so called informally “Carrington Event”. The storm caused strong auroral displays and wrought havoc with telegraph systems.
On 28 August 1859 numerous sunspots began to appear on the surface of the Sun and were observed by Richard Carrington, who produced detailed drawings of them as they appeared on 1 September 1859.
On 1 September, Carrington was observing the Sun, investigating and mapping the locations, size, and shapes of the sunspots when, just before noon local time in England, became the first person to witness and record a solar flare.
From the sunspot region, a sudden bright flash, described by Carrington as a “white light flare,” erupted from the solar photosphere. Carrington documented the flare’s precise location on the sunspots where it appeared as well as where it disappeared over the course of the 5 minute event. A Coronal Mass Ejection was headed straight for Earth!!!!!
The flares were so powerful that people could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora and the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment some bad enough to set fires.
A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. In addition satellite communications, essential to many daily activities, would be at risk from solar storms.
Richard Carrington, the man who didn’t want to be a brewer, despite of an unfortunate life and an unhappy love story, helped change the direction of astronomy: from being concerned principally with charting the stars to aid navigation, astronomers became increasingly concerned with what the celestial objects were, how they behaved, how they might affect life on Earth… and how we can protect ourselves!!!!!
“Sic itur ad astra”